Product Review: Lenovo LaVie Z

Product Review: Lenovo LaVie Z

I was hoping to share with you all a fantastic review of a couple Lenovo designed masterpieces. But, alas, despite some very significant features, both the Lenovo LaVie Z Convertible and the Lenovo LaVie Z pale in comparison to similar devices. And, that’s the rub. If I didn't already have the HP Spectre (review HERE) in my hand weeks ago, the Lenovo offerings might have been more exciting to me. It's tough not to compare different manufacturer's devices, particularly when you test and review so many, but at the same time, each vendor needs to bring its game based on what already exists in the sales stream.

I also intended to deliver a review for each of the Lenovo devices, but after ripping open the boxes and comparing them side-by-side they are truly the same device save price, and a few small variances. So, instead, I'll just review both devices as a whole but first outlay the differences.

Differences:

  • The LaVie Z Convertible is a 2-in-1 while the LaVie Z is a laptop.

  • The LaVie Z Convertible's screen folds into tent mode and all the way back into tablet mode while the LaVie Z just swings flat (interestingly, both have the exact same hinges – an almost direct copy of the HP Spectre).

  • The LaVie Z Convertible has a volume up/down button on the casing while the LaVie Z does not (makes sense since the Convertible can be a tablet)

  • The LaVie Z Convertible is a touchscreen device while the LaVie Z is not.

Other than that, they are basically the same device. As you can see from the list above the differences are minutely small. And, as you can see clearly in the next photo, side-by-side there's no way to tell the difference.

In fact, except for the display and those items I already mentioned, the specs are exactly the same except for the weight:

  • 5th Gen Intel Core i7 processor

  • Windows 8.1

  • Up to 8GB memory

  • 13.3" WQHD (2560 x 1440) display

  • Laptop = 1.87 lbs, Touch = 2.04 lbs

So, based on these being practically the exact same device, of course I wanted to spend more time with the Lenovo LaVie Z Convertible. I saw the value in laptops with touchscreens long ago and would now never own a non-touch version given a choice. So, as quickly as I unboxed the Lenovo LaVie laptop (non-touch), I wrapped it back up and settled in to test the Lenovo LaVie Convertible exclusively. Do you blame me?

Those that have experience with Lenovo laptops and devices know that they are usually very solid. From speed and performance to usability, construction, and attention to detail, Lenovo has been a driving force in the PC industry even during the supposed "fall of PCs" in the last few years. Where other manufacturers blamed Microsoft and Windows 8 for the failing PC market, Lenovo innovated, driving itself into the number 1 position in the market and becoming a fan favorite.

But, unfortunately, this iteration, the Lenovo LaVie Z series, leaves much to be desired. Blame it on other vendors starting to now catch up and attempt to duplicate Lenovo's successes (again, I point to HP), but there's some significant drawbacks here, at least for me.

There are some positives, though, considering the LaVie's run an i7 and can hold enough memory to host Virtual Machines comfortably. But, most people can spec-out their own devices to ensure they are adequate to perform the job. So, instead of digging into the bulrushes of each feature, I'll just highlight those I believe are important, both positive and negative, for determining if the Lenovo LaVie Z series is right for you.

Huge Positive – Weight

OH. MY. GOODNESS.

Pulling the LaVie from its box had me immediately wondering if Lenovo had forgotten to actually send me a unit and all I had been able to pull from the box was the packing material. I had to do a double-take. The LaVie is incredibly light. In fact, after I realized that I actually did have the unit in my hand, I compared the weight with my Kindle Voyage. With the Origami Cover attached, there's very little weight difference between my eReader and the LaVie. Seriously, it's that light.

The HP Spectre is light enough, weighing in less than Apple's latest MacBook Air, but the LaVie makes even the Spectre seem heavy and will probably make the Air feel like an old Compaq Portable. If you're looking to lighten your travel load, the LaVie will definitely do the trick. I have yet another trip coming up shortly and I'm tempted to delay sending the review units back to Lenovo just to test portability traveling through the airport.

Since receiving the units, I've handed them to others just to feel the weight and it almost shocked them out of their shoes.

Positive/Negative – Construction

The materials used to construct the LaVie and just the general construction are the direct reason why it's so light. Not only are the materials seemingly made from plastic air, but the balance of the innards lends to the overall feel.

That said, this is both a positive and a negative, unfortunately.

As a kid, you might remember when an Aunt or Uncle handed you a birthday present and you ripped it open only to find that it was a knockoff of a popular toy – the difference between a Mego Captain America action figure and a summarily named Major USA doll made in China. It was a toy, instead of clothes (thank God), but it quickly took up permanent residence in the back of the closet once you opened the present from your Mom and Dad and it was the officially licensed toy you had hoped for.

That's sort of what the LaVie feels like. It's a real device, just not the one you were hoping for. Granted, it’s a wonderful device that’s comparable to any other device in the market from a performance and function standpoint, but it feels, well...cheap. In fact, it doesn't take much pressure at all on the LaVie lid to think you've come just too close to snapping the screen from its casing. Based on the pricing (below), Lenovo is targeting the LaVie to businesses. As we all know, end-users aren't the best at babying company-supplied equipment and I can see the LaVie being nothing short of a constant repair headache.

Negative – Keyboard and Touchpad

One of the things I've truly loved about Lenovo over the years is the keyboard experience. The tactile keys have always been a pleasure to use and makes keyboarding fast and fluid. I've recorded my best typing speeds on Lenovo keyboards.

The LaVie seems to have taken a break from the fantastic typing experiences Lenovo has supplied in the past. The keys are extremely short, there's very little additional function-key capability, and the right-hand shift key is horribly placed. More than anything, trying to use the right shift key, I'd constantly tap the Up Arrow key instead.

On normal keyboards, the right shift is just as large as the left, but on the LaVie, Lenovo skimped on space to squeeze in the navigation keys. In fact, if you take a look at the photo you'll see that the entire keyboard layout is different just to compress it into a small form factor. You might think that this should be pretty normal for today's devices, but it's not. The HP Spectre provides a full keyboard experience and adds in a bunch of additional features through logically placed keys and function key capability.

The Touchpad works great, but after becoming accustomed to using the one supplied on the HP Spectre, it's just too small. It's like going backward in time and trying to conform to a cramped typing and touchpad experience again.

Meh – Battery Life

Lenovo touts that the LaVie Z sports up to 9 hours of battery life, and like most devices today that’s a best guess based on consumption. I used the LaVie Z constantly to watch battery life and based on my daily activities snagged about 5 hours. My activities included email, video streaming, a couple games, reading news, working in MS Word and Excel, and a few miscellaneous other time consumers.

5 hours is not great, particularly for a device touted to last for 9, but that's pretty much the norm these days. Even the HP Spectre, which is touted as a 12-hour device, I could only get about 6 hours before needing a charge. There are tweaks you can make such as screen intensity and other things, but this is how it performed out of the box.

Bottom Line

If you are in the market for a 2-in-1 and looking for something that is the lightest device on record and can supply all your computing needs, the LaVie Z Convertible is a fantastic device. Based on the pricing, and the small difference in features, I'm not sure I'd settle for the non-touch version of the LaVie Z.

However, while the Lenovo LaVie Z might be a sweet device for some, it does come with a bitter price tag. Based on my experiences, I would have expected the LaVie Z series to be an entry device with an entry price. But, that's not the case. Because Lenovo is targeting business with these devices, the company has also slapped on a business price.

Here's the breakout:

Really this all boils down to a single question: Is this something I'd purchase on my own? If the LaVie Z had been the first to market, I'd had given it some serious consideration. But, with so many similar options now available, with much friendlier pricing, it probably wouldn't make my top two decision points.

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